Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: divine justice

THE WRATH OF GOD

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The Flood

 

We do not like to think of God as a God of wrath.  We would like to think of Him as a kind, benevolent Father who loves us unconditionally, understands that we are merely human, and would never think of punishing us.  But it would be a mistake to worship a God of our own imagination.  The question is, what is God actually like in reality?  And the only way we can know that is through divine revelation: God himself must tell us what He is like, and this He has done in Scripture.  We must go by what the Bible says, not our own imaginations.

And while the Bible says that God is a God of love, He is also a God of justice who hates sin and punishes it.  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:8; NKJV).

The first question, then, is, why is God angry?  The verse says that it is because of the “ungodliness” and “unrighteousness” of men.  The word translated “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – the lack of any devotion or reverence toward God.  “Unrighteousness” refers to lawlessness and injustice.  As human beings we refuse to keep God’s law and mistreat each other.

Paul goes on in chapter 3, verse 5 to refer to “your hardness and your impenitent heart.”  They are “self-seeking and do not obey the truth” (2:18).  In other words, what is in view here not an occasional unintentional mistake or a sin committed in ignorance.  What is in view here is something conscious and deliberate, an attitude of selfish indifference to others and a stubborn rebellion against the truth.  We sin willfully, and thus we are without excuse.

In other words, God’s anger is an expression of His justice.  He is angry with us, not arbitrarily or for no apparent reason.  Rather, He is angry with us, justly angry, because of what we have actually done.  It is a matter of what we deserve for our sin and rebellion.  For God to love righteousness is to hate unrighteousness; to love good is to hate evil.  If He cares for the victim He is angry with the perpetrator of the crime.

But then, the question is, how does God’s anger express itself?  And here we are told that the wicked are “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).  In the day of wrath and judgment God will mete out to the wicked “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (2:8,9)  The wicked will experience real suffering – “tribulation and anguish.”  But it must be kept in mind that God is exercising perfect justice in this; it is not the arbitrary and unpredictable explosion of anger that the pagans predicated of some of their gods.  Rather, the day of wrath is the “righteous judgment of God,” who “will render to each one according to his deeds” (2:5,6).  “For there is no partiality with God” (2:11).

Christians, of course, have been save from the wrath to come.  “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:9).  Nevertheless, the doctrine of God’s wrath has important implications for the Christian life.

First of all, we should be careful to please God in all that we do and avoid sin, knowing that it is because of those very sins that people are in hell today.  “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:6,7; cf. Col. 3:5-7).  If God would punish a sin in that way we should dread ever to commit it.

Secondly, we may on occasion find ourselves having to disobey the civil magistrate when they command us to do something that is wrong.  As Jesus sent His disciples out on their first preaching tour He warned them in advance that they face persecution, including the possibility of prosecution by the civil authorities.  What Jesus said was grim and foreboding: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and body in hell” (Matt.10:28).  Civil magistrates and courts may decree this or that, but right and wrong are ultimately determined by God and never change.  Human governments have engaged in oppression and even outright genocide, but that does not make it right.  “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

But most importantly, Christians should be anxious to share the gospel with the lost, knowing their future destiny if they do not repent.  The apostle Paul could say that he “magnified” his ministry to the Gentiles “if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them” (Rom.11:13,14).  There is a sense in which the eternal destiny of our fellow human beings depends on our presenting them with the gospel.

If we were to take the wrath of God seriously we would live differently.  Our priorities would be different, and we would not be so casual about sin.  May God help us to see things more clearly and live accordingly!

THE LORD IS KING

 

 

“The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The Lord is clothed,

He has girded Himself with strength.

Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved.

Your throne is established from old;

You are from everlasting.”

Psalm 93:1,2; NKJV

 

Americans have a hard time thinking of God as “King.”  We are used to thinking in terms of freedom, equality and democracy.  Our very Declaration of Independence states that governments are instituted “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  It is no wonder, then, that Americans have a hard time dealing with authority.

We sometimes try to picture God as a warm, fuzzy father figure who is there to comfort and encourage us, who understands that we are “only human,” and who would never think of punishing us.  And yet the Bible says that the Lord “reigns” and has a “throne.”  People in the ancient Near East knew exactly what that meant: God is a king.  He has authority.  He must be obeyed.

God has that authority by virtue of being our Creator.  We owe our very existence to Him.  He is eternal and all-powerful; we are mere creatures of the dust.  Our relationship with God, then, is one of sovereign and subject, of Lord and servant.  He is the lawgiver and judge.

But there is another reason why it is important to recognize God as Lord and King, and that is to establish the principle of justice.  One of the chief functions of a king is to promulgate and enforce the law; and the real question is, is there any real justice in the universe?

At first sight the answer might appear to be “no.”    We see dishonesty, exploitation and oppression at every hand.  The strong take advantage of the weak.  Governments themselves are often corrupt.  And yet we long for something better.  We would each like to be treated fairly, and we know instinctively that that means that everyone should be treated fairly.  We long for justice.  But does it exist?

The answer is “yes.”  The Bible tells us that

“The Lord reigns;

Let the earth rejoice;

Let the multitude of isles be glad! . . .

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”

Psalm 97:1,2

“Justice” is the act of judging rightly – of making sure that each one is treated fairly and gets what he deserves.  And God is a righteous and just King: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”  He will reward good and punish evil.

But, you say, we do not see this now.  We see a world full of violence and oppression.  Where is there any justice?  The answer is

“Let the rives clap their hands;

Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord,

For He is coming to judge the earth.

With righteousness He shall judge the world,

And the peoples with equity.”

Psalm 98:8,9

This points to a time in the future when there will be a final, last judgment.  The judgment will be universal – God will judge “the world” and “the peoples,” i.e., the entire human race.  But unlike human justice God’s justice will be perfect.  He will judge the world with “righteousness” and “equity.”  Both words imply judgment which is fair and honest – true to the actual facts of the case and without partiality.  As a result everyone will receive exactly what he deserves.  Sin will be punished and righteousness will be rewarded.

All of this should be, according to the psalm, a cause for rejoicing.  The whole earth is exhorted to “shout joyfully,” “break forth in song,” and “sing”.  Even the physical world is exhorted to “clap their hands” and “be joyful together,” all because “He is coming to judge the earth” (vv. 4-9).  It means that true justice will finally prevail.

None of us could bear to live in a society in which there is no justice.  It would be a society in which crime pays and evil would prevail.  It is largely for this reason that human governments are formed.  But human justice is often imperfect.  Sometimes criminals escape unpunished.  Sometimes innocent people are put to death for crimes they did not commit.  Sometimes the government itself becomes corrupt.  And this raises a very disturbing question: will justice ultimately prevail?  Or are we doomed to lead an existence which is fundamentally unfair?  The answer is, God is on the throne.  He is perfectly just in all His ways, and He is coming to judge the world.  The prospect is both comforting and terrifying at the same time.  Comforting, because we live in a universe in which justice will ultimately prevail; terrifying, because by nature we are all guilty sinners.  And therein lies the human predicament.

 

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS – INTRODUCTION

To see the way the world is today one would think that Christianity has become irrelevant. Basic moral norms, once taken for granted, are now openly flouted. The courts have virtually said that separation of church and state means separation of morality from public life. Church attendance is dwindling, and large numbers of young people, raised in conservative, Evangelical homes, are turning away from the faith, leaving behind increasingly gray-haired congregations. Does this mean that Christianity is finished?

    It may seem so, but we must never lose sight of certain basic facts. First of all, God still exists – eternal, immutable, and omnipotent. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, He will still be upon the throne and we are still accountable to Him. Our lives are in His hands.

    Moreover the basic principles of morality never change. Right and wrong are what God says they are, and His will is not variable – it is not subject to Supreme Court decisions, acts of Congress, or Hollywood fads. It is God with whom we have to do, not the changing tides of public opinion.

    What, then, do we make of the situation in the world today? The answer is that it is ultimately all a part of God’s plan, and history is moving towards its final conclusion. We are told in Scripture that “in the last days perilous times will come” (II Tim. 3:1; NKJV), but that Christ will return and establish a reign of universal peace and righteousness. This is, in fact, a central theme of the Bible.

    There has always existed in in human society a moral contradiction or tension. On the one hand the world was created by a single omnipotent Deity. One would expect, then, that His creation would conform to His will. Yet when we look at what actually goes on in the world we see something quite different. The world is full of crime and violence, war and poverty. And if we are honest with ourselves we will admit that the problem lies right within our own hearts. On the one hand we have a conscience which tells us right from wrong. We see injustice and oppression, and we are rightly angered. And yet we ourselves do what we detest in others, driven by some inexorable urge. We are slaves to self-interest, even when it tramples on the right. We have met the enemy, and he is us. There is no question that there is evil in the world; the question is, will there ever be justice?

    Three thousand years ago the ancient psalmist reflected on the paradox of human behavior and said:

        “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;

         My steps had nearly slipped.

         For I was envious of the boastful,

         When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

                        (Ps. 73:2,3)

He goes on to describe how apparently well-off the wicked often are, enjoying the comforts and pleasures of this life. Is this not proof positive that crime pays, and that nice guys finish last? What is the benefit of doing right?

        “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,

         And washed my hands in innocence” (v. 3).

    The answer to this perplexing dilemma escaped the psalmist until he put life in its eternal perspective.

        “When I thought how to understand this,

         It was too painful for me –

         Until I went into the sanctuary of God;

         Then I understood their end.” (vv. 16,17)

What he then realized is that the prosperity of the wicked is only temporary – their final ruin is eternal..

        “Surely You set them in slippery places,

         You cast them down to destruction.

         Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!

         They are utterly consumed with terrors.” (vv. 18,19)

God is just, and His justice will prevail. How that plays out in history is a major theme of biblical prophecy. The end, as we shall see, will be dramatic. It is a sober reminder to us all.